When it comes to scientific research, the US and UK are the world’s undisputed heavyweights (see Rising Above the Gathering Storm and The Scientific Century). The US invests heavily in quality research, and the UK relies on its productivity and ability to punch well above its weight. Both nations are revered the world over as vanguards of scientific excellence. However, where they differ is in their ability to translate scientific research into societal gains. It’s the ‘D’ in ‘R&D’, or nowadays the ‘I’ in ‘R&I’, where the UK packs a less powerful punch.
With this in mind, the US National Academies’ new report Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security makes for important reading this side of the pond. UK policymakers, academics and business people continue to look to their American counterparts in a bid to uncover the secrets of better translating university research into marketable technologies, economic growth and other national goals. As this video shows, and Chad Holliday, Chair of the report, explains:
“The talent, innovative ideas, and new technologies produced by US research universities have led to some of our finest national achievements, from the modern agricultural revolution to the accessibility of the World Wide Web… Especially in these tough economic times, the nation cannot afford to defer investment in our best asset for building prosperity and success in the future.”
Against this rhetoric, the report sets out ten recommendations for maintaining the US’s pre-eminence in research excellence, thereby providing a conduit to national competitiveness and prosperity. These include: stable state funding and greater autonomy for universities, strengthening the business role in research partnerships, creating a Strategic Investment Fund, enhancing cost-effectiveness and productivity, and reducing onerous regulation.
The full suite of recommendations will no doubt be scrutinised, evaluated and re-imagined in a UK context. But what will the impact be? Are there any nuggets of wisdom among them that might enhance (revoluntionise, even) the UK’s university research and innovation landscape? Or do they amount to refreshed versions of the ideas we have long seen churned out to little effect? Moreover, in times of shifting global competitiveness, is the US even the scientific role model we should be looking to?
In the inevitable fallout from this latest report, these and other questions are bound to be aired. And here in the Royal Society’s Science Policy Centre, we’ll be closely following the debate.